Monday, December 23, 2013

Tradition: A Place to Stand In The World

Tradition (noun) 1. the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, and customs from generation to generation; a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting; a continuing pattern of culture, beliefs or practices.

It is Christmas Eve, 11:15 pm or so. 

I’m done with church and work and am home. I officiated at three services this night and also shook something like 600 hands! I love it but am now finally ready to mark my own personal tradition for the night of the 24th.  I dig deep into the stocking I’ve hung by the mantle piece, and retrieve from the very bottom, an inch long plastic figure of baby Jesus. Then, I gently place him in the manger of my nativity set. 

Now…Christmas is really here for me.  Like all the years before, my holy day and holiday doesn’t start until the infant makes it into the crèche. Like all the years ahead, God willing too, I’ll re-enact this same tradition again and again and again.  It’s a tradition I received my family.  It’s one I’ll pass on too.   

Because for me if there is no tradition, well…there is really no Christmas. If there is no tradition, there is really no life either, at least not a life I want to live. There are lots of great reasons to love the holidays—Christmas, Hanukkah, family celebrations, special food and music, all the trappings of the season.  For the past month our world has been immersed in twelfth month revels, some sacred, some secular. 

And though we probably don’t think about it much, or name it as such, this is a season of tradition unlike any other time of the year. Tradition is December.  Our familiar rituals are religious. Christians look forward to yearly candles and a silent night in a hushed sanctuary. Jews light one candle each night, the menorah pushing back winter darkness. The Dutch set out clogs and shoes on December 5th in the hope that Sinterklass (Saint Nicholas) will fill them up with gifts. No matter the faith or ethnicity, the season is marked by amazingly diverse traditions.

Other rituals are secular but still so important.  Putting the same star on the top of the tree year after year, the star your grandparents put on their tree. Taking young nieces or nephews shopping or out to “The Enchanted Village” just like a loved one did for you when you were young. Watching the same cheesy TV Christmas special or weepy Christmas movie year after year after year, even though you know all the dialogue and how it turns out.  Why? You need tradition! We all need tradition.

As Tevye, the patriarchal Russian Jew sings in the musical “Fiddler On The Roof”, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!” Tradition gives us a place to stand in this world, to find our bearings. Tradition reminds us we are a part of a story that is so much bigger than ourselves, one begun long ago, written by God, or initiated by family now long gone. Tradition connects us to those who came before.  Tradition binds us together in community. Tradition survives while so much of modern life fades away.  Tradition was, is, and will be, if we take it seriously. 

So here’s to tradition: Godly tradition, human tradition, ancient tradition, familial tradition. In a world where so much can be fleeting, where information flies by at the speed of light, where the digital is disposable, tradition at last, lasts. Tradition remains because at a deep spiritual and emotional level, all humans need to be reminded on a regular basis what is most important in this life: what is true and right, from generation to generation.

So whatever your holiday traditions, I pray and hope you’ve carried them out again this year. You’ve returned to a holy place.  You made the food your grandmother made for you so long ago. You sung a song that made you weep in memory and then taught it to your son or daughter. 

Tradition. I’ve got a place to stand in the world and a story to live by this December.  That’s the best holiday gift of all.

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